The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Holmes loves the city: after all, it's "a hobby of [his] to have an exact knowledge of London" (League.148). The countryside? Not so much. In the scattered households of the countryside, Holmes sees a lot of vulnerability to cruelty with no helpful neighbors on hand to stop it. Consider the events of "The Speckled Band," "The Engineer's Thumb," and "The Copper Beeches." All of these involve long-term abuses that go pretty much unnoticed because they occur in isolated country houses.
At the same time, the city puts lots of different kinds of people side by side, which is like an invitation to quite unexpected trouble. He takes advantage of this fact in "A Scandal in Bohemia," when he stages a riot outside of Irene Adler's house. Other examples of volatile, dangerous city life include poor Henry Baker's assault by some toughs in "The Blue Carbuncle" as well as the opium dens of "The Man With the Twisted Lip."
Questions About Contrasting Regions: London and the Countryside
- Why does Holmes fear the countryside? And is he right to? Do the crimes that take place in the countryside seem worse than those that occur in London? Why or why not?
- How does Conan Doyle's precise representation of Victorian London contribute to the atmosphere of the Holmes stories? How might detective stories be linked to developing urban cultures?
- What differences are there in the presentation of urban and country settings? What kinds of adjectives get attached to both? How are the moods of stories set in London different from those set in the countryside?
Chew on This
In Holmes's adventures, the crimes that take place in London occur as a result of the city's growing diversity and its economic wealth, while the crimes that take place in the countryside are often conspiracies that depend on the isolation of the victim.
By setting the Holmes stories in London, Conan Doyle takes advantage of the city's importance as the center of the British Empire to represent multiple races and classes living side-by-side.